Orioles have good choices for starting rotation

Orioles have good choices for starting rotation
October 1, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Orioles are now expected to compete year in and year out

The Orioles know they’ll have to pitch better in 2014. In the magical 2012 season, the Orioles had an ERA of 3.90. This year, it was 4.20, and that’s not good enough.

In the final weeks of the season, the Orioles’ relative position climbed, and they finished 23rd in ERA.

Boston and Cleveland finished with 3.79 and 3.82 ERAs, but those were good enough to qualify for the postseason.

Do the Orioles have the arms to shave nearly half a run a game off the ERA?

They’ll start next season with Chris Tillman as the unquestioned No. 1. It’s been a very long time since they had a clear ace, and that was Mike Mussina.

Even though Tillman won just two of his last 11 starts, he kept them in most games and finished with a 16-7 record and a 3.71 ERA. He also exceeded 200 innings and completed seven innings in 13 of his 33 starts.

Tillman said that next spring he wouldn’t hesitate to advise some of the younger pitchers, though he said this year he relied on Jason Hammel and Scott Feldman.

Miguel Gonzalez was the second biggest winner. He won 11. A year ago, the Orioles had only Wei-Yin Chen with more than nine.

Gonzalez missed some time with a blister on his right thumb in May and after eight winless starts, he finished the season with three wins in his last four decisions.

The Orioles would like to get another proven starter. Jason Vargas’ name has been mentioned for the past two years, and they’d like another left-hander.

In 2013, Vargas made $8.5 million. If they signed him, they might not be able to sign another proven starter, their own free agent Scott Feldman.

Feldman was acquired in early July along with Steve Clevenger for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.

He pitched creditably with a 5-6 record and a 4.27 ERA. Before Friday night’s start when he allowed eight runs in 2 1/3 innings, Feldman had allowed three or fewer in his previous eight starts.

The Orioles may need a preemptive strike to sign Feldman. If he’ll agree to a two-year contract, the Orioles may be able to sign him. They may not think a three-year deal is wise.

Chen is the biggest enigma of the starters. In both 2012 and 2013, Chen was winless in his last seven starts. This year, he had six straight no-decisions to end the season.

He missed two months with a strained left oblique, and he’ll be going to Sarasota, Fla. to join some of his teammates in training there.

Chen has often run into trouble in the sixth inning, and didn’t finish seven in those last winless starts.

Bud Norris was acquired on July 31 from the Houston Astros for L.J. Hoes. He’s under team control for the next two seasons, but was somewhat of a disappointment. Norris was 4-3, but his elbow bothered him, and he averaged a career-high 10.8 hits per nine innings in his Orioles starts.

Norris will have to get better at holding runners on, and the team plans to drill him incessantly to improve that in 2014.

He was a valuable addition, and could start or if the Orioles have a surplus of starters, be a swing man.

The most intriguing of the potential starters for 2013 is Kevin Gausman. Manager Buck Showalter said he hoped the starters were so good next year that Gausman wouldn’t be needed, but that probably won’t be the case.

Gausman was excellent in some relief appearances. In three late-season outings against Boston, he held them hitless in 4 1/3 innings, striking out eight.

In his five starts, he showed his inexperience, but his time in the bullpen, pitching well in critical games augurs well for the future.

Dylan Bundy, who was drafted the year before Gausman, won’t be ready to pitch until perhaps mid-season. If things go well, he may slip into the Gausman role in September, pitching out of the bullpen. Bundy probably won’t be a factor for the rotation until 2015.

The Orioles have two promising starters in Eduardo Rodriguez and Mike Wright, though neither is likely to begin 2014 with the Orioles. Rodriguez was with the Orioles for the early days of spring training.

He was 10-7 with a 3.41 ERA at Frederick and Bowie, and the 20-year-old left-hander will probably return to the Baysox or perhaps start at Norfolk next season.

Wright has been with the Orioles in the last two spring trainings, and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year with an 11-3 record and a 3.26 ERA at Bowie. He’s likely to start at Norfolk next season.

With Wright, Rodriguez, Bundy and perhaps T.J. McFarland as future starters, the Orioles may soon have a number of good choices.